This trade could come back to haunt Kent Hughes.

Carl Vaillancourt
April 30, 2024  (10:54 PM)

Justin Barron
Photo credit: Arpon Basu - The Athletic

Ready to acquire a promising asset along the blue line, the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens had traded forward Artturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche. A few months later, the team based in Denver secured the Stanley Cup, with the Finn playing a significant role.

In exchange for Lehkonen, Kent Hughes acquired young defenseman Justin Barron, who represented a very promising prospect for the organization. A former first-round pick in the NHL by Colorado, Barron is currently skating in the American Hockey League with one foot and in the Bettman circuit with the other.
One wonders if Justin Barron will reach a top-4 role in the Bettman circuit or if he will occupy a position on the third defensive pair, akin to what a certain Nathan Beaulieu did back in the day.

Trade JB for Lehkonen: Kent Hughes' only mistake?

Recall that on March 21, 2022, the Canadiens indeed traded Artturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Justin Barron and a 2024 2nd-round pick.
At the time, this trade was enthusiastically celebrated. Barron was seen as an offensive-minded defenseman with good size and skating ability, and the second-round pick in 2024 could potentially bring in a support player in the coming years.
To date, the Colorado counterpart has clearly had the advantage. Artturi Lehkonen has been racking up points and has become a linemate of Nathan MacKinnon. The two had great chemistry on the ice during the Stanley Cup win in 2022.
It's easy to argue that this might be Kent Hughes' least successful trade, considering the separate performances of the two players over the past two years.
At 22 years old, Justin Barron has accumulated 11 points in 32 games with the Laval Rocket this season, along with 13 points in 48 games with the Montreal Canadiens.
As for Lehkonen, he's been incredible. He amassed 51 points in 64 games last year and 34 points in 45 games this season. He was sidelined due to injuries in 2023-2024.
In the playoffs, he's one of the Avalanche's best players, already tallying 4 goals and 7 points in just 4 games. Dominant!
Even though he's not talked about much, the Finn has been lighting up the scoreboard, scoring in each of the first four games of the 2024 playoffs.
"[Valeri] Nichushkin and Lehkonen have also become the third duo in playoff history to have a sequence of four consecutive games with a goal to start the first playoff round.

If Lehkonen or Nichushkin scores in the next game, it would be the first time a player from the Avalanche/Nordiques franchise starts the playoffs with a goal in each of his first five games since Michel Goulet in 1985."

Michaël Petit

While a defenseman's progression takes much longer than that of a forward, Justin Barron will have to find his footing in 2024-2025. His destiny is in his hands. With all the talented young defensemen in the organization, the Canadiens' management will have to make decisions, and it's not impossible that Kent Hughes decides to part ways with him to add talent up front.
Kent Hughes, Jeff Gorton, and even Martin St-Louis didn't want to trade Lehkonen, but the Avalanche's offer was too enticing to refuse at the time!
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